I don’t know why I’m frightened
I know my way around here
Steve stopped dead in his tracks. Was he having auditory hallucinations?
The cardboard trees
The painted scenes
The sound here…
Was he in the right place? He looked around: nondescript hallway leading to Tony’s private lab, check. By this point in the trip he was usually wincing at the sounds of AC/DC, Let There Be Rock turned up so loud that the walls seemed to vibrate. It was rock ‘n roll when Tony worked and horrible radio rap when he had parties. Steve didn’t even know that a “Gucci Mane” was an actual person until he met the man at one of Tony’s parties, sprawled on a couch with Tony wearing one of his chains. Tony seemed to get endless joy from the way Steve stood straight and shook the hands of the ladies sprawled about, and he had no problem saying so, either.
Tony wailed when Steve asked what Houses of the Holy was. Literally wailed. “Zeppelin is like garden variety, man! Everyone knows that album!” Tony had said, and then he put it on, assuming that thirty seconds of listening would win Steve over completely. He’d done the same with a bunch of other bands with weird names like Girlschool, Uriah Heep, Pentagram – name it and Steve had listened to it and hated it.
So Steve really couldn’t understand why he heard his favorite number from Sunset Boulevard lilting down the corridor that led to Tony’s lab.
Steve tucked his shield under his arm and stopped at the door, and through the glass he saw Tony sitting at a work table, welding goggles on, leaning over and soldering metal to metal. The door was shut but he could feel the room throbbing with timpani and strings, the actress’s frail but proud voice singing a song from the first show he saw after he woke up. Steve had gone to a lot of stage shows as a young man – hell, it was a staple of night life for him and his friends growing up. He often tried to watch modern movies but they felt like sensory overload to him, and it didn’t help when shit like First Blood just made him want to cry. He liked the controlled bursts of energy in the theatre, the quiet that was followed by tap-dancing and barrel rolls. He’d only managed to see that one show before all that Avengers shit went down, and he looked forward to when things died down enough for him to go see a good musical again.
Steve leaned closer to the glass door. He thought he saw Tony’s lips moving as he worked away, soldering tiny, tiny connections to the pistons that moved his suit.
No way. Was Tony into theatre? It was possible…as much as Tony hated his father, Steve had heard that Maria Stark was a huge Gershwin fan. He’d seen photos of Tony as a boy, on stage in various school plays. These things were hard to reconcile with Steve’s current impression of Tony – a brilliant loudmouth with terrible and expensive taste.
“I’ve spent so many mornings just trying to resist you / I’m trembling now / you can’t know how I’ve missed you…”
Tony, singing along while still focused on his work, the last note with a gentle vibrato. He knew the words by heart.
Steve decided to go back to his room. He’d drop off his shield for modifications another day. He turned on his heel and had only taken a step or two before the music was swelling, horns and flutes echoing all around him. He took one more glance behind him to see Tony holding up his mini-soldering iron, waving it in the air like a conductor. Steve thought of the live show and the actress on stage alone, her eyes spirited yet frightful as she belted her lament to the audience. It was only the second show to ever make him cry.
He was almost to the exit when he heard it, Tony’s bright and pitch-perfect voice almost drowning out the orchestra. “And this time will be bigger and brighter than we knew it / so watch me fly / we all know I can do it…”
Back in his room, Steve rested his shield against a bookcase and put on the original Broadway cast recording. He took off his shoes and thought of Norma Desmond descending that staircase, so happy to return to film, so ready to inspire a world that had completely forgotten her. He let the soundtrack play, and he caught himself singing along, too.
“Could I stop my hand from shaking / has there ever been a moment / with so much to live for / the whispered conversations in overcrowded hallways...”
Steve figured Tony wouldn’t want to be caught two days in a row, so he went back with this shield the next day – earlier, closer to noon. Tony had pretty much been holed up in his lab for the past week working on modifications to his armor, and he’d offered to make adjustments to Steve’s shield though it wasn’t clear if and when he’d have time to do so. Steve expected to hear Deep Purple or Mötörhead instead of Andrew Lloyd Webber this time, and he wouldn’t be disappointed. No Webber today. Today it was Gershwin. From Steve’s favorite Gershwin musical.
He’d seen Crazy For You when it came out in 1937, right after his mother died and he was finally alone, living in a boarding house. Bucky had gone with him and they’d had quite a roar at “Things Are Looking Up” and “Naughty Baby,” but “I’ve Got Rhythm” was the song they sang randomly to each other, while bouncing down the street or goofing off at haphazard moments. It was the song that street musicians played to get tips. It was a wedding party standard. And it was shaking the rafters in Tony’s workshop when Steve opened the door.
Tony saw him immediately, and Steve wished he had a camera. The look on Tony’s face flashed of devastation, of horror and embarrassment for the quickest of seconds. Steve even thought he saw the color drain from Tony’s face for a moment there. And then Tony was Tony again, mumbling insults at his robots and spinning a red-hot soldering iron in his hand before continuing to work, as if showtunes weren’t filling every corner of his space.
“JARVIS, volume,” Tony said as he removed his goggles, and the volume of the music lessened considerably. “What’s up?”
Steve held up his shield before putting it on the tabletop, and Tony acknowledged it with a nod. “Great,” Tony said, and he let his fingers brush the metal. “I’ll make a digital wireform of it and return it to you tonight. Thanks.”
Tony put his goggles back on then and continued to work, pointedly ignoring Steve, who was standing there scratching his temple at the elephant in the room. “Anything else, Cap?” Tony asked, not even looking up from his work, arms tense.
“So you like Gershwin?” Steve asked, and Tony looked up for a second, his mouth twitching. After a second of silence, Steve figured he was not going to respond, so he continued talking. “Yeah, I remember this show.”
“Were you there on opening night?”
Steve just smirked, knowing that Tony wouldn’t miss an opportunity to insult him, but he wouldn’t take the bait this time. His head was full of memories of the Lower East Side now, laundry hanging between tenements and sneaking into Funny Face through the stage door. The only time he’d ever outrun Bucky was when they got busted sneaking into Zeigfeld Follies back in 1931. It was the last year, last show. How could they not at least try?
“No,” Steve said, “but I did see it with the original cast back in ’37. Bucky went with me.”
Tony seemed to perk up a bit. He still had his goggles on but he was clearly looking at Steve, now even putting down his soldering iron. “Original cast, huh?”
“Yeah,” Steve replied. “Saw Porgy and Bess at the Majestic back in…what, ’42? Last show I saw before I enlisted.”
Finally Tony removed his goggles, but his gaze lingered on them as he laid them on the tabletop. “Wow,” Tony mumbled, pretending to rearrange things, “color me jealous, Rogers. Was that before or after Anne Brown left?”
Tony actually seemed to relax a bit, and he let his mouth tilt into an unguarded grin. “My mom took me to see a lot of Gershwin,” Tony said. “We saw Porgy and Bess but I was too young to catch anyone from the original cast in it. I love that show. Just amazing.”
“Me too,” Steve said. “It was the first show that ever made me cry.”
Tony laughed a bit at that, not his obnoxious I’m-making-fun-of-you cackle but a quiet, throaty thing that lacked eye contact or much volume. “Really? Then you haven’t seen All That Jazz, I’m guessing. Well, it’s a movie, not a play, but it has been staged since then. Still, the movie – brilliant. Bob Fosse. He’s after your time, but he’s great.”
And Steve knew that Tony didn’t mean that as a jab or insult.
“You should bring it to a movie night,” Steve said, and then he shifted his shoulder back, making it known that he was preparing to turn and leave. “But anyway, I gotta go.”
“I’ll leave your shield outside your door.”
Steve had been lying. He didn’t have anything to do. He’d just been weirded out by suddenly bonding with Tony Stark over musicals, of all things. Tony had even known the name of the original Bess, and the fact that Steve had seen her perform the role live had been the one thing that finally cracked Tony’s defenses about liking musical theatre. Steve hadn’t missed the fact that Tony was wearing a Black Sabbath shirt during their conversation – well, he didn’t doubt that Tony sincerely loved rock ‘n roll, but why was he so secretive about his love of showtunes? Steve had apparently slept through the moment in American history where men stopped dancing and singing, stopped going to see live theatre and musical revues. These things were now under the domain of women and homosexuals, and the idea that making joyful noise was effeminate – and therefore shameful – bothered Steve to no end. He’d gone to maybe two clubs with Tony since waking up, and it was always the same thing: the women bent over and rubbed their asses into the crotches of men who stood there, still as statues except for their arms, which did little more than lift beers to their lips. Back in his day, a fella could have never gotten away with passing that off as dancing, and dame would not have tolerated it.
Steve had many cast recordings of his favorite musicals, most on vinyl. He listened to them in his room while he did sit-ups or drew, and sometimes he danced. His favorite was doing the soft-shoe to the musical break in “I’ve Got Rhythm.” Steve hadn’t told Tony the bit where he and Bucky went to see Crazy For You so many times that they’d even learned some of the choreography. He couldn’t believe he still remembered it.
He knew Tony Stark liked to sing and dance. He’d seen it himself, oh so many times and with Tony in oh so many states of inebriation. Tony soft-shoed occasionally, would goofily Charleston or jitterbug for his friends while singing, “In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking / but now, God knows - anything goes!”
Steve headed towards the gym and remembered random moments where Tony had let his inner theatre fan show, times when he’d tap out a grapevine or make a reference that only a theatre fan would get. Once he remembered Natasha, four vodkas down, saying, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. De Mille,” to which Tony immediately sat up and responded, “It’s actually ‘Alright, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my close-up.’” Natasha just flipped Tony off and did another Lemon Drop, going five-for-five with Steve.
Steve grinned to himself, remembering having to put Natasha in bed even though he’d reminded her several times that he couldn’t get drunk so it was pointless to choose him as an opponent in a drinking game. Maybe she’d just needed an excuse to get drunk.
Tony was in their group study. Steve hadn’t even walked past the door yet but he knew Tony was in there because he could hear low bass vibrating in the walls, and Tony was the only one who ever worked in there with music. The point of a study is to study in it, Tony, not head-bang to Metallica. And seriously, were Metallica even considered rock ‘n roll?
As Steve got closer he could hear that the bass wasn’t choppy and raucous like rock music – and also that Tony had the door closed for a change. Long, sustained notes that faded out naturally…notes from an upright bass.
Standing by the door now, Steve heard Tony’s voice. This wasn't the cast recording – this was Nina Simone. He'd recognize her voice anywhere. This song had been a hit during his Army years, it had been everywhere, and Steve remembered listening to it over and over again, requesting it from the house band at every club he went to while on tour with the USO. The girls always wanted to slow dance with him for that particular number, but he never accepted. He would just sit and listen.
“It’s gonna be like dying, Porgy, when he calls me / but when he comes I know I’ll have to go…”
Steve went back to his room. He missed Bucky and his mother. He missed seeing a good play. He didn’t have to be watching Porgy and Bess to cry because of it.
Steve was glad to be lost in the crowd exiting the theatre. Everyone poured out onto the streets, some ducking into the nearby alleys to try and catch the stars of the show upon their exit. He blended in, wearing a simple black suit and tie as he moseyed over to the taxi stand. He let many people go ahead of him, just happy to be out of the tower for another evening. A couple of months ago he’d taken to going to shows by himself, once it had become clear to him that his evenings would continue to go uninterrupted unless he did something about it himself. The shows started late and ended late, for his standards at least, but it was nice to be loose amongst the crowds in this old part of town, a part of town that still slightly resembled itself from 70 years ago. Slightly. There was a bar across the street from the Majestic, made of old glass and moldy stonework, and Steve considered sitting down for a drink.
A taxi rolled up and he got in. No drinking tonight. He’d missed another movie night with the team to go to the show – Phantom of the Opera, it was pretty good – and he figured he should at least go home and catch the last of whatever they were watching. The driver balked when he told him to drive to the private entrance of Stark Tower, but still the man left the curb and merged into traffic.
The living room was empty and dark when Steve walked in. He could see evidence of a movie night – popcorn spilled on floor, dried rings of soda and booze on the coffee table – but none of the others were around. He walked over and picked up the stray kernels, then went to the trash and threw them out. He stood in the quiet of the living room for a while, his ears still ringing from the orchestra.
Steve picked up his playbill and stared at its iconic cover. He was hopelessly bored and unwilling to admit he was lonely, and he wished he’d had that drink after the show. So what if it wouldn’t affect him. Not the point. Maybe Natasha would be in the gym – no wait, she was in the field for a week. Thor was always good for a chat or sparring, but he was in New Mexico. Bruce was definitely asleep, and there was no telling where Clint was hiding. Tony was probably in his lab.
Steve went and took a seat on the couch. There were DVD cases on the table and he flipped through them. The Crossroads, Event Horizon, The China Syndrome, Step Up 2 Da Streets, All That Jazz…
Steve turned over the case and read the back. Featuring the infamous and legendary performance of “Take Off With Us”…He opened the case and the DVD was there. He looked up at Tony’s entertainment system, which was actually just a featureless box with a disc port on the side. Steve thought that maybe he was supposed to talk to it.
“Wanna watch that?”
Steve startled for a moment then calmed himself, turning around to see Tony behind him, hands in the pockets of his pajama pants. He was remarkably clean – hell, he even looked freshly showered.
“Why aren’t you in your workshop?” Steve asked, and Tony snickered as he walked around the table and took a seat beside Steve.
“Because I live here,” Tony said, “and I can wander my house as I see fit.” Steve just laughed, still turning the DVD case over in his hands. “How was the show?”
“It was good,” Steve said. “I mean not Gerswhin-good, but good for a new show. It was nice to be out, though. See the city a little bit.”
Tony grinned and nudged Steve’s arm. “Not many people would call Phantom new.”
“I know. I just like that old sound, you know? But I mean it was worth it. It was a fun show, I’m glad I went.”
“I like Phantom alright,” Tony said, and he took the movie from Steve’s hand. “I get what you mean about newer stuff, though – the sound of it. But I think you’ll like this one. I really do. It’s probably my favorite.”
Steve leaned over to look at the case again, and he could smell bourbon and pizza and clean skin on Tony. “Let’s put it on, then.”
Steve didn’t miss the way Tony smiled as he went to the load the disc, and he could hear him singing, “Won't you climb aboard, you’ll ride as smooth as glass…”
All That Jazz was the third musical to make Steve cry. He didn't even notice that Tony was curled against him until a remarkably smooth hand reached up to gently brush a tear off of his cheek, and he whipped his head around to look into Tony's eyes - and then he felt him...Tony's legs pulled up and leaned into his side, Steve's arm around his shoulders, Tony's face so close to his neck.
Steve opened his mouth to apologize (for what, he wasn't sure), and he froze when Tony pressed two fingers under his chin.
"Watch," he whispered, and he turned Steve's face back to the screen. The angel of death, dressed in all white and finally uncovered, showing her true self, so beautiful, floating down a hallway, her gaze terrifying and sweet. He didn't think about it when he rested his hand on top of Tony's, which lay on his stomach.
Steve was happy he decided against going to that bar. He probably would have missed the opportunity to watch this movie. With Tony.
The credits rolled and Steve continued to cry quietly, not shamefully but just quietly, and Tony said nothing. He reached up occasionally to wipe a tear away but mostly he just laid against Steve, petting his chest and saying nothing. Steve chuckled through the wetness in his eyes and looked at Tony, trying to smile.
"I liked it," he said, softer than he meant to. "Great numbers."
Don't throw the past away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When every thing old is new again
Steve didn’t like wearing makeup. He didn’t like strange overdressed women leaning so close to him, smearing pressed powder all over his face and neck. Apparently he only had to talk to Kathy Lee and Hoda for three minutes and then he’d be done. All this makeup for three minutes? Fury is never talking me into some shit like this again, he decided silently. Tony had offered several times to go on with him, but it was 8 am and Tony already reeked of black label bourbon. He wasn’t wasted, but he’d definitely had too much to act right on live television.
“Almost done,” the makeup artist said, and Steve waited until she was turned around to roll his eyes. He heard a snicker behind him and looked in the mirror to see Tony on the couch, eating strawberries from the craft services table.
“The food’s only for guests of the show,” Steve said, not serious.
“I can buy this building,” Tony mumbled around a mouthful of fruit, and Steve snickered as the makeup artist began filling in his eyebrows. She didn’t take long to finish, and she stood back and patted his shoulder before exiting the room.
“You know Kathy Lee and Hoda are probably drunk already, too,” Tony said, and Steve just laughed. “You look nervous.”
“I don’t like wearing makeup,” Steve said. “Had to wear it for war films before I went to Italy. I hated it back then, and I hate it now. I don’t understand how women do it.” He leaned towards the mirror, examining his powdery face up close. “And I have to be interviewed live on tv by two drunk chicks…boy, am I sweatin’ already.”
“Calm down,” Tony said, waving a hand carelessly at him. “It’ll be over before you know it, so relax.” Steve caught Tony’s grin in the mirror, and before he even opened his mouth Steve knew what Tony was about to sing. “Lean back, relax – dadum, dadum – here come the snacks” –
And with that, Tony threw a strawberry at Steve.
The team sat silently as the credits rolled. Natasha shook her head mournfully, then raised her beer towards the screen before turning it up and finishing it. Bruce was almost disturbingly quiet, and so was Clint. Thor laughed silently, clapping occasionally and complimenting Ben Vereen’s dancing, the depth of the ending seemingly lost to him in the song and dance of it all.
“That was most enjoyable,” Thor said, nodding. “I am quite sad for his daughter. She is the only one who seems to have been forgotten in all of this.”
Tony and Steve shared a look, impressed. So Thor didn’t miss the point after all. Clint picked up the movie case, staring at the photo of Roy Scheider in front of bright lights.
“I’d always thought 'All That Jazz' was just a song from Chicago,” he said, and he let out a heavy sigh. “I have no idea why we didn’t want to watch this last week.”
Eventually everyone else went to bed, but Tony and Steve stayed up. They watched the movie again, and this time Steve pulled Tony into his side as soon as the movie started.
Steve walked out of the teleconference room to see Tony standing there in a suit, dressed for meetings and R&D walk-throughs, not to mention that all of this was happening during his official consulting hours for SHIELD. Everyone was busy today.
“Hey,” Steve responded, tucking his tablet under his arm. “Just got off the horn with Fury. Clint and Natasha are on the Avengers Initiative full-time now. No more field work.”
“That’s good,” Tony said, genuinely pleased. “Was that your doing?”
“How about that. Why don’t we celebrate then?” Tony held up an envelope. “Nice Work If You Can Get It is playing at the Imperial. Private box.”
Steve regretted pausing for as long as he did, because Tony was dropping the tickets to his side now and giving a pissy snort. “Or you can just go by yourself, as usual” –
“I’ll buy drinks after,” Steve said. “Since you paid for the tickets.”
“Why buy me a drink?”
Tony looked around the old but fancy-looking bar they were in, seated at a booth near the back. Steve’s playbill sat on the tabletop beside his Old Fashioned, which was slowly melting. Tony hadn’t kept his playbill, and Steve liked to imagine that it was for fear of people finding it. Steve had planned to meet Tony and Happy in the garage but they ended up riding the elevator down together, and neither were surprised by how quiet the trip was. When they got to the car Tony caught himself a second too late, but it was already happening when he realized he was holding the door open for Steve, and Steve was climbing in.
Things loosened up once they got to the show. Steve watched Tony more than the actors during the play, watched him lean up on his elbows and laugh and clap without fear. Some of the songs in the show had become jazz standards by 2013, and Tony wasn’t shy about singing along, just tossing Steve helpless smiles whenever he would give a goodhearted chuckle at the display. They left the theatre through the alley and Happy drove them to this bar, some place that Steve told Tony about, across the street from the Majestic.
Steve held the door for Tony when they walked in. Let him into the booth first. Happy sat at the bar, just a few meters away from them.
“Why buy me a drink?”
Tony asked again when his second bourbon arrived in a crystal tumbler. Steve took a sip of his own drink and just shrugged, using his fingers to grab the cherry out of his glass, and he gingerly plucked the fruit off of the stem. Across the table Tony was swirling his drink around, leaving thick legs running down the side of the glass once it sat still.
“Why take me to a show?” Steve asked, still chewing his cherry.
Tony looked up, across the table and into Steve’s eyes. There was a piano player somewhere in the room, and of course he had been playing showtunes all night. Quiet ones, sad ones.
“You were singing this in the lab one time,” Steve said. “Ages ago. You didn't know I was there.”
Tony listened closer. Yes, a world to rediscover / but I’m not in any hurry / and I need a moment… Steve was right – that had been months ago. He remembered it because that was the night he’d soldered new cabling into his boots, and it had taken until dawn. He still hadn’t slept when Steve brought him his shield the next morning.
Tony wanted to think of a clever retort but nothing came to mind, and in the end all he could do was snicker into his drink and curse the piano player under his breath.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” Steve said. “What do you think I did when I got back to my place?”
They both laughed then, and beneath the table their legs were touching.
“I like your voice,” Steve said.
The wine was on the floor, still corked and utterly forgotten. JARVIS had been shuffling Broadway songs for a while now, since Tony had stopped telling him which songs to play. Tony recognized it - his favorite ballad from Miss Saigon, and he wanted to congratulate JARVIS for making such a good selection, but he didn't say anything. Steve lay back on the floor of Tony’s living room, his suit jacket off and his tie loosened, one hand behind his head while the other one rested on his stomach, fingers gently curled into Tony’s. Tony was pressed against the side of him, leaning over him, kissing him long and slow. They had been that way for at least two songs now, just lying down and kissing only with their lips, and something seemed to be tugging at Steve’s insides, reminding him that he didn’t have to settle, that he could have more if he wanted. Steve hesitantly opened his mouth, and for the first time he tasted the person he was kissing, let Tony in and let himself be tasted as well. Steve managed to keep it together until he felt Tony’s hand rubbing innocent circles on his side, and Steve’s lips began to tremble from the heat that pooled low in his belly. Tony was no idiot and he backed off, pressing a sweet peck on him and resting their faces together.
“Relax,” Tony whispered against Steve’s lips, red and shining.
“I’ve never kissed like this before,” Steve said, too loud, too soon, too nervous to properly censor himself. Too late now. “I’ve never done anything like this.”
He hoped Tony wouldn’t laugh or start in with 21 questions. He hoped Tony wouldn’t take the moral high ground and ask him to leave. But Tony wasn’t saying anything – he was just looking at Steve, his expression not shocked or even surprised. He was staring at Steve’s mouth. He seemed peaceful. He was grinning at something he wasn’t sharing with the man on his floor.
“So, we can just,” Steve continued. “We don't have to...”
“I know,” Tony said, his fingers tickling at the back of Steve’s neck. “And it’s fine. I’m happy just to kiss you.”